Port Hope, Canada – Early Modes Of Transport

THE century which has just closed has witnessed many and wonderful changes in all departments of human life but perhaps the greatest achievement in its annals has been the marvellous development of the facilities of transportation. Everywhere this revolution in travel is manifest and nowhere can its course be better traced than in its connection with this town and its surrounding country.

The founders of Port Hope, as has been seen, reached their future homes by water and on the water they preferred to travel for many years afterwards. Thus it came about that the earliest improvements were made in the field of navigation. Flat-bottomed Durham boats in which many early settlers arrived were soon superseded by comfortable sailing packets and they in turn by steam-vessels about the year 1820. By 1850 these steamboats had become not only large and luxurious but swift and trustworthy. Sailing vessels in large numbers were employed to convey lumber, coal and grain to and from the south shore and from about the middle of last century until recent years Port Hope possessed a large fleet of these schooners, many of which had been constructed in the town itself. However it is not the purpose of this chapter to relate more concerning lake navigation, a subject which has been partially dealt with in a previous section.

On land the earliest communication was made with Rice Lake by means of the Indian carrying road. It is not known at what date this road was made but it is not unlikely that it was of very remote construction. The Indian name ” Gochingomink ” means ” the commencement of the carrying-place ” so that it naturally follows that the road and the Indian village date back to the same dim antiquity. However this may be, the ancient path through the woods, marked by blazed trees, was in constant use when the first settlers arrived at Smith’s Creek. The trail formed a direct and most convenient route from Smith’s Creek to Sackville’s Creek, at which point the Indians were accustomed to launch their canoes. Its course lay to the eastward of the present gravel road, sometimes running as far as a mile away. As the woods have been gradually cleared away all traces of this old road have been obliterated.

It is a difficult matter to state anything definite about the early roads through Port Hope. All that can be done is to deduce certain conclusions from the facts at hand. During the war of 1812 the British soldiers were accustomed to put up at Marsh’s Inn at Port Britain, on their way to and from York. From this it is evident that the main road at that day ran along near the Lake shore. At the same period it is known that Cavan Street was the thoroughfare to the north country and the building farthest west on Walton Street was at the Cavan Street corner. This points to the conclusion that Walton Street was not yet opened up above Cavan Street. Again certain old residents can recall a winding road which zig-zagged up the hill in the neighborhood of the Base Line and then ran westward, so that it is not improbable that this was the first road into Port Hope from the west.

The main York Road (Danforth Road) running through Welcome and Dale must have been constructed shortly after the War of 1812, as it may be inferred that the Government recognized from experience the necessity of having a better means of communication between east and west. It may be concluded also that Walton Street and the road to Welcome were opened up soon after this Danforth road was built. To the east of the Town the old post road ran up over Ward’s hill and joined the present Cobourg Road near the blacksmith shop, half way to Cobourg. The Rice Lake road was another early line of communication. At first it ran directly north from Rossmount to Peterboro, without going near the Lake but soon after it circled around to Bewdley. Cavan Street formed its first connection into Town.

These roads were presumably of corduroy construction, at least in swampy localities and the discomfort of travelling over them can best be expressed from actual experience. Captain Basil Hall, R.N. in July 1827 was travelling east from York. He wrote :—” The horrible corduroy roads again made their appearance in a more formidable shape by the addition of deep inky holes, which almost swallowed up the fore wheels of the wagon and bathed its hinder axle-tree. The jogging and plunging to which we were now exposed and the occasional bang when the vehicle reached the bottom of one of these abysses were so new and remarkable in the history of our travels that we tried to make a good joke of them.”

Even after the Cobourg Road Company had been formed in 1847 and had built the new connection into Port Hope complaints were rife, as witness the following broadside which appeared in the Guide of March 15th, 1859.


TENDERS will be received until the 20th inst. for the construction of zoo Mud Scows to run between Cobourg and Port Hope on the Macadamized (7) Road connecting the two places, which is owned by Cobourg Capitalists. The Company feel that the new mode of conveyance is necessary as the loss of horses, waggons and valuable lives in the fathomless abyss of mud during court week was fearfully alarming. Until the completion of the said Mud Scows the Company will continue to exact toll from those who may be so fortunate as to escape alive through the gates. Though the legality of such exaction may be open to question, they confidently expect that in view of the public spirit of the Company in providing the Scows aforesaid, the public will submit to be victimized. Dated at Cobourg this 15th day of March, 1859.


Since that time great improvements have been made and the majority of the roads into Port Hope, while not quite what could be desired are still very serviceable.

Much difficulty was experienced by the first settlers both in working their farms and in drawing grain from the lack of horses. Mr. John Brown of Port Hope proved himself quite a benefactor when he made large purchases of French horses in Lower Canada and disposed of them on credit to the farmers. Owing to the bad condition of the roads the farmers of the back country were wont to wait for winter to provide good sleighing before venturing to Town. Ox-sleds were employed and after a good snow-fall the road to Town was lined with these vehicles, of which a person might pass fifty within a single mile. Those coming from a long distance travelled night and day. The road took them through Graham’s Tavern (Baillieboro), Village Inn (Millbrook) and Bletcher’s Corners. At the latter point there was always a warm welcome to all and huge fires burned in the Inn all day long.

The first regular mail stage began to run through Port Hope about 1826. Prior to that date travellers either passed through in private carriages or on their own horses. The hardships of these early horsemen may best be told by quoting an amusing incident, which occurred to a traveller, who once put up at the ” Red Tavern.” He tied his steed carefully in a shed, inhabited by some cows, and betook himself into the Inn for some refreshment. On his return imagine his chagrin to discover saddle, bridle and stirrups completely vanished. The truth was that being made of straw the hungry cows had naturally enough devoured them.

With the advent of the stage-coach, travel seemed to receive a new impetus so that by 1831 five trips a week were made. The coaches usually stopped at the Old Inn on the site of the present Queen’s Hotel. This tavern, in the early days, stood in from the street and the stage drove up to the door through a little avenue, quite in the style of the famous stage-coaches of Old England. In their palmy days these stages were fine large vehicles drawn by four horses and they presented quite an imposing picture as they dashed down Walton Street to the sound of the guard’s horn.

In summer good time was made by these stages but at many seasons of the year travellers were badly delayed by the lamentable state of the roads. A traveller in 1831 reports that he left Port Hope at 2 A. M. and did not reach York until the following midnight. During this time he had to walk a considerable distance, owing to break downs and other delays.

Mr. Hicks controlled the first stage coaches. After him came Mr. Jonathan Ogden, who had previously carried the mail weekly from Trenton to York on horseback. The last stage magnate was Mr. Weller and under him coaching saw its best days. Besides the regular mail coaches, Mr. Weller for some time ran a daily line of accommodation stages expressly for passengers from Cobourg to Toronto, leaving Port Hope at 9 A. M. and arriving at Toronto early in the evening. Horses were changed at Cobourg and at Marsh’s, west of the Guideboard (Welcome). Another line of stages, run by the Bletchers, connected Port Hope with Lindsay and Peterboro’. However no sooner was the whistle of the locomotive heard in the land, than stage-coaches became things of the past, at least in this neighborhood.